Day 11 – Nuku Hiva Aranui Cruise 2010

Day 11: April 17 – Nuku Hiva: Hatiheu (archaeology, traditional Marquesian dancing and petroglyphs)

We returned back again to the island of Nuku Hiva but this time to a town along the northern coast. Hatiheu was once again a small town but on the Marquesian island with the most infrastructure. This was also the first and only town we encountered that had a dirt road throughout the town. Most villages until now at least had a paved section through the downtown area, but in Hatiheu time seemed to stand still, at least a little bit longer.

Our four year old Eli, asked me once again if he could stay on the the boat while the rest of us went on our shore excursion. He was getting a bit tired of trotting off in the sun and wanted the predictable routine that was offered by the kind-hearted Mila who handled the kids activities on the boat. Given that we were going into the mountain and that the risk of Nono’s and Mosquito’s is high on Nuku Hiva we decided it would be best for him to stay on the boat as much as we wanted him to join us. As a result after our usual buffet breakfast we said goodbye and parted on one of the last whaleboats that took us to shore.

My wife Kirsten, Alyssa, Jaeden, Dailin and Orin joined me for our day in Hatiheu. We hopped into and in the back of one of the pickup trucks that shuttled passengers around. My wife jumped out in the village with Alyssa and Jaeden who wanted to have a look at souvenirs that were being sold by vendors at the side of the road. I however continued on with the younger two to the tohua (ancient Marquesian gathering place) where we were to learn about the ancient uses of this site.

Just outside this historical site we saw two men working amid their coconut trees, husking and peeling coconut from their shells. While one man collected coconuts from the fallen trees, the other sat next to a pile of coconuts. With one swipe of his machete he grabbed a coconut from the pile and within seconds had it husked and the interior of the coconut in large chunks on the ground. From where he sat he would throw the coconut shell twenty feet into a fire that was burning in front of him. The entire fire consisted of burnt or half burnt coconut shells. These men were in the process of making copra. From here they would lay the coconut in the sun for two weeks in its final preparation to be exported and turned into oils. People from these islands go through the hard labour still of shelling coconuts for copra. Although they made it look easy, it is still very labour intensive compared to collecting noni fruit and placing them in a barrel for export as a medicinal cure-all.

After waiting at this archaeological site called Hikokua for about half an hour for everyone to arrive on foot (including the rest of my family), the first part of our afternoon entertainment and education got underway. Three local men came and presented the “pig dance” which consists of a dance that imitates the ever so popular pigs of the island that are well respected. This dance included jumping around hunched over while making deep hoarse noises that sounded much like that of a pig. I’ve been told that after singing like that for twenty minutes, one’s voice is gone for the rest of the day. Our children enjoyed watching this spectacle that was located in the same place where similar performances were conducted in years gone by. The performance was conducted in this gathering place that was flanked by raised stone platforms on three sides, areas where spectators in the past would also watch from. To one side was a rock where solo ceremonial dances where performed while at the far end we had a view of the spike like mountains that greeted us as we entered into the harbour. It was a beautiful sunny place to spend an hour learning about Marquesian culture and history.

We continued up into the mountains to the second and third adjoining sites ofKamuihei and Tahakia. Although these site were not totally cleared from trees as the first site, it was a more authentic recreation of the shady meeting places and performance areas of the traditional Marquesian settlements. Whereas the first site was cleared and restored by local villagers, these sites was restored nine years ago under the supervision of Archaeologist Pierre Ottino whom we had also met restoring a site on Ua Pou the week before. What was so impressive about these sites were the sheer magnitude of their sizes and numbers of areas. Also impressive was the massive 600 year old pandanas tree that seemed to hover over the entire area with its massive multi rooted trunk and stretched out canopy. I have truly never seen anything like it. It was great to know that this site was restored in 1998 in preparation for the Marquesian festival that brings together people from all around these islands. A great excuse to pull together the ancient history of the area with the present.

After viewing the big pits in this area that had once contained taboo objects and bones, we caught a ride down the mountain to the town spokesman or mayor’s restaurant called “Chez Yvonne”. This lady is a traditional woman who directs the town well. She works to maintain the culture and history of the area including the opposition of constructing a road to the nearby bay and settlement of Anaho. The meal too was very traditional. It all started with the unveiling of the three pigs and breadfruit that had been cooking since 3 AM in the Marquesian underground oven. We were then treated to a 4 course feast for lunch that started with a seafood platter, lobsters, the pig and then a tapioca coconut desert. By the time we were all done we couldn’t eat another bite and were thoroughly impressed by this remarkable lunch.

The final part of our afternoon we opted to skip the 40 minute hike to the Anaho saddle viewpoint. We decided that we would just have a swim in the waves of this bay’s black sand beach that were big enough to make a parent nervous and at the same time strike excitement into the hearts of our children. Smaller two foot waves would break followed by a series of three to five foot crushers. While Alyssa, Jaeden and Dailin enjoyed being pounded by the larger waves a little further out where it was usually waist to shoulder deep, Orin and another girl his age from France who he met on the boat played closer to shore where the waves swirled around them and would have swept them away had I not been there to lift them over the waves and hold them by me. This is probably the most fun our children have had in the water since arriving in French Polynesia.

Although the Marquesas islands are not known for their beaches like the crystal blue waters and white beaches of other French Polynesian islands, the few beaches that are here can be exciting if you avoid the strong currents and know where to swim. What makes these beaches perhaps more rough is the fact that the Marquesas islands are not surrounded by reefs like the other islands and so they are open to the elements of the waves of the Pacific Ocean. As time went on however we could see that the kids probably would never want to leave this slightly dangerous beach so we packed up with the promise that we would do some more swimming in the Aranui’s onboard swimming pool. Although not as exciting it did work and get the kids out of the sun for that afternoon.

Written by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC

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